366 Days of Gratitude and Good Things: Day 103

Someone I’m connected to on the Book of Face was either tagged in a post, or liked a post, featuring this:

10things

And I looked at it, and I kinda liked it, and then I wasn’t so sure. Just because a thing doesn’t take talent doesn’t mean it’s easy.

For example, being on time. There are people for whom this is as natural as breathing, or it looks that way from the outside. It’s been a a fight for me most of my life. Mom used to tell a wee story about me being so concerned with my homework looking neat that if I made a mistake, I’d re-do everything on a clean sheet of paper rather than cross something out or have eraser marks. And it sounds kind of cute until you realize how much extra time it took. As if by doing this, I was procrastinating on something else. Because I was rather a world-class procrastinator, and dawdler, and get-sucked-into-a-book-and-not-come-out-for-hours sort.

It took me years, quite literally, to see that I sabotaged myself this way, and I was disrespectful of other people’s time into the bargain. And if I wanted other people to respect my time (*cough*Steve*cough), then why was it okay for me to be disrespectful of theirs?

It still takes work, sometimes, it doesn’t always feel natural, but it’s much better now, much closer to a good habit. Did it take talent? No. It took a commitment to change. It takes an ongoing commitment to keep doing it, and trust me, it would be oh so easy some days for me to slide right back into being late…except to work. Being late to work would cost me too much.

Work ethic, then. I used to joke that Mom had raised me in the Puritan work ethic — which is really a joke if you consider my complete lack of religious upbringing — and hey, that thing about the homework? You could use that as an example! Except I’ve always been better about my work ethic serving other people than serving myself. The homework? I think that was less about me and more about making the teacher happy. Or maybe impressed. In other words, I have (historically, anyway) attached more importance to getting a task done for someone else than to accomplishing something that’s just for me.

Putting yourself second in your own life might look like a good work ethic, but it makes for a bit of a barren field at home. And it takes a willingness to acknowledge that I am worth the time and the effort, and that is oh so very hard for me.

Which leads to point 3 on the list: effort. The dictionary definition is pretty straightforward; “effort” is a conscious exertion of power, or a serious attempt, or the thing produced by the attempt, or the sum total of work done toward a particular end. It doesn’t say the exertion leads to anything, that the attempt will be successful regardless of the seriousness, it’s either about the work, or the thing that results. If anything.

The ability to put in effort isn’t a talent, but you have to be willing to do so. You have to decide that Thing A needs to be done, or deserves to be done, and that you will do what it takes to get it done. And not everyone can, or will, do that as a matter of course, or they will do it in some areas of life and not others. Sometimes I wonder if Thing A is worth the effort. If Thing A applies specifically to me, it’s all too easy for me to say no, it isn’t worth it.

Except it is, really. So I have to make an ongoing commitment to accepting my own worth, and therefore accepting that yes, if Thing A will improve my chances of leading a better, more meaningful life, it is truly worth the effort.

Now, body language? Its inclusion on this list doesn’t feel natural to me for some reason. More like it was shoehorned in. Except that much, if not most, communication takes place on the nonverbal level and is rooted in…yep. Body language. Where the words and the body language contradict each other, the physical may well convey a more accurate answer than the words. Not perfect, of course, nothing is, but it’s why professional gamblers work so hard to remove their “tells”, those little signals that other gamblers understand all too easily and will use to their benefit.

In the context of this list, though, does it mean being aware of your body language? Or being able to control it enough to, perhaps, manipulate others? Or maybe using your body language to bring your inner and outer selves into congruence, i.e., saying what you mean both verbally and non-verbally? I’m just not sure, but I’m voting for the last one. Which presupposed you wish to communicate honestly with everyone. I prefer honesty; I’d rather not have to keep track of what I told whom about what.  🙂

Energy is another quality that doesn’t feel quite right on this list. It isn’t a talent, that’s true, but it’s also not necessarily something you have full control over. If you’re sick, for example, the appropriate level of energy directed toward accomplishing Thing A may well be zero; it’s more important in this case to devote your energy to regaining health than doing something outside yourself. Your mileage may vary, of course, and some people are still able to be quite productive despite being ill, but I wonder if that productivity comes at the expense of healing.

Also, does its inclusion here mean you’re expected to throw maximum energy at everything, even if it’s something you’d rather not be doing? Because there will come times you do a thing you don’t really want to do, and will forcing yourself into that energetic space really benefit you? I don’t know. I do subscribe to doing your best at whatever you’re doing, whether it’s your favorite thing or something you have to get through.

Rather than energy, I might have used enthusiasm. Yet this isn’t straightforward, either, because how do you make yourself enthusiastic in order to bring that enthusiasm into play? Again, would you have to force it for not-your-favorite-thing things? But going back to the list, would enthusiasm overlap too much with passion to be worth a separate line?

I’m not sure. I’d love to hear (okay, read. Pedants.  😉  ) other people’s thoughts on this one.

Attitude is absolutely under our control. I have thought for years, whether or not it’s ever come up in discussion, that you can control only two things in this world: your actions, and your reactions to what other people say/do. It may take a while to recognize this ability, and another while to get into practice, and it may take continuing awareness to make it work. Note that I didn’t include controlling your own thoughts. That takes more effort (heh) because our brains are such busy places and it may be easier to keep the outer being in control than the inner one. But I’m sure there are people who can do it, possibly with the aid of meditation or some other inner work. I haven’t gotten there yet. Something to work toward.  🙂

And then we come to passion, and yes, checking the dictionary, enthusiasm overlaps enough that I guess we’ll leave energy on the list after all and give passion its singular space. Setting aside the religious definitions, and the meaning “acted upon by external forces or agents” (which (a) doesn’t seem to fit the intention of this list and (b) whuh? I had no idea this was one of the definitions!), and the meanings related to sex, we’re left with “intense/overmastering feeling or conviction”, and “a strong liking for or devotion to an object, concept or activity”.

This is where I ask pretty much the same questions I did about enthusiasm, but with a slightly different level of intensity. Yes, it’s wonderful to be passionate about something, but can you force it? Do you go out looking for something about which to be passionate? Or does it cross your path with a come-hither glance and a bolt from the blue? Or both, depending on the circumstances?

Does the list allow for changing passions? I know I was far more passionate about opera when Steve was alive than I am now; I also know I’m far more passionate about the music my friends make than I ever was about opera, with or without Steve’s direct influence.

So no, passion doesn’t take talent. I think it takes openness to the new, and the willingness to be seen by others as a bit over the top on certain things — some people are passionate about things that simply don’t interest me, and vice versa I’m sure.

The next two things feel to me like subsets of previous characteristics. Being coachable can be seen as a combination of work ethic, effort, and an attitude of willingness to learn from someone else. Doing extra has some of those same aspects, with the willingness perhaps more in the direction of energy spent.

Being prepared, though, I think can be a talent as well as a learnable skill. Some people are innately better at projecting outcomes and evaluating the actions required to reach (or avoid!) a particular outcome. But there’s also making the conscious decision to think things through, to educate yourself, to plot and plan and make things happen, or not happen (or minimize the chance of an unwanted thing happening). I’m still learning this, too, because I didn’t learn it earlier. Not sure my mom learned it, except at the most basic level of survival learned during the Depression, but she tried to insulate me from the things she experienced and I honestly don’t think she did me any favors.

The only way to change that now requires a time machine. Don’t have one. Moving on, with gratitude for what I’ve learned and the ones who’ve taught me even when they didn’t know they were doing it.

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1 Comment

Filed under 366 Days, commitment, gratitude, self-acceptance

One response to “366 Days of Gratitude and Good Things: Day 103

  1. I’m with you on having mixed feelings on this. I think it’s a valuable counterpoint to “I can’t do that, I’m not talented enough” by reminder that talent isn’t everything. If you wish to do Thing A, then you can think of this as a list of potential assets you might bring to the table that can help you be successful at Thing A above and beyond a natural talent for Thing A. Or, conversely, as a reminder that raw talent alone is seldom enough unless you couple it with some of these.

    But I agree that some things on this list will come more naturally to some people than to others – are talents of their own, if you will. “Energy” was the one that caught my eye. Since I’m currently recovering from surgery, energy is a finite resource and one that can’t be summoned just for the asking.

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